Lackluster debate on budget amid low attendance of MPAs and exchange of hot words between the treasury and the opposition benches that led to a physical brawl in the House marked the Punjab Assembly’s 38th session.
The session that concluded on June 23 saw less than one-fourth – 24% of the current membership of 369 – taking part in the budget debate for 42% of the session time. The Punjab Assembly is the largest legislature in Pakistan representing the most populous province.
Thirty-two percent of the 106 legislators representing the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) expressed their views during the general debate on budget that spanned over five sittings.
Similarly, 17 percent (29 out of 172) MPAs of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) took part in the debate.
Twenty-six percent (21 out of 81) members of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and one out of three belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League- Functional (PMLF) took part in the debate on budgetary proposals. Two Independents also marked their presence by expressing views on the budget.
The women legislators were more active than their male counterparts, as nearly two fifths (29) of the total 75 female members took part in the budget debate, in contrast to only a fifth of the 296 male members. In other words, 80% of the male members did not take part in discussions. Two out of eight minority members (on reserved seats) participated in the debate.
The House needed only nine sittings to pass the provincial budget. It was presented during the fifth sitting when the minister for finance and revenue for spoke about an hour and 20 minutes. The overall duration of the budget session was nearly two days (47 hours and 25 minutes), with each sitting, on average, starting 78 minutes late and lasting three hours and 10 minutes.
Only active participation and attendance of members in sessions can make the business of the House meaningful. Since the Punjab Assembly Secretariat does not make public the attendance records of members, FAFEN conducts a headcount of legislators at the beginning and end of each sitting. On an average only 30 members were present at the start and 63 at the end of each sitting, less than the one-fourth of the total 371 members (quorum) required for the proceedings to take place.
However, a maximum of 97 members were present at one point of each sitting on an average. The finance bill was passed in the presence of 159 MPAs during the 13th sitting. On the other hand 13 bills were passed amid lack of quorum, which was only pointed out on seven occasions by members of PML, PPPP and Independent(s). On five such occasions, the Chair suspended the sittings and called for the bells to be rung. In one instance the sitting was adjourned. These stoppages took up 130 minutes – 5% of the total session time.
The 38th session, during which the budget session was passed, comprised 15 sittings. On an average, each sitting was three hours and 10 minutes long and was delayed by more than an hour (78 minutes).
The seventh sitting was the longest, lasting seven hours and 15 minutes while the fourth turned out to be the shortest, ending in an hour and a half.
The parliamentary leader of the PML attended 10 sittings while those of MMAP and PMLF attended five each. The PMLZ party head did not attend the entire session.
Towards the end of the session, there was exchange of hot words and scuffles on two occasions which disrupted the proceedings and decorum of the House. Use of unparliamentary language against female legislators, a shoe-throwing incident and the members coming to blows were the highlights of these protests.
Thirty-one out of 122 questions appearing on the agenda were taken up and responded to by the relevant ministers. Six out of 23 adjournment motions were also disposed of during the session.
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